Knowing AA History: Spotlighting Barry L 

Many people had a hand in changing the course of Alcoholics Anonymous, and consequently, the entire peer-to-peer, mutual aid world. Some of these stories are lost or buried--not hidden from us, just so deep in archives that no one who's come across them had a grasp on their significance to you and me nor did they feel compelled to record and broadcast this revelation. Today we know more about Hank P thanks the the big reveal in Writing the Big Book: The Creation of A.A. by William Schaberg. We now know so much about Hank's role in shaping AA now because of Schaberg's eleven years of archival research: 

“Another embarrassing story that raised serious problems for the Fellowship was the central role played by Hank Parkhurst—Bill Wilson’s right-hand man from 1938 to 1939—because Parkurst drank shortly after the book Alcoholics Anonymous was published. Whenever possible, mention of Hank and his contributions to the program were judiciously dropped from the stories told about those early years. ...It is possible to imagine the creation and growth of Alcoholics Anonymous into the organization that we know today without the help of Dr. Bob Smith, but it is impossible to do so if the many substantive contributions made by Hank Parkhurst are eliminated from the picture.”

Writing the Big Book fact-checks AA mythology and makes it clear to many of us who were told or read otherwise: No Hank, no book! Schaberg is not satisfied with all that he uncovered and he challenges hobby-historians and academics alike, Hank's autobiography must be written for the record. It didn't fall into the specific mandate of Schaberg's research but what he learned, he hopes someone else will take, research further and run with.

Learning what really happened is important. Learning  informs and also help us let go of flawed recollections from memories that have been put to print as fact. Some memories are accurate of course, but, as is the nature of human memory, inaccuracies along the way are the rule, not the exception. 

So enough about history in general; let's spend some time a specific key player in our AA history, Bary L. Like Hank Parkhurst, Barry L's footprint is one we have all seen but do know, who's imprint we're looking at?

If you think you're different; if you're a member of a special purpose 12-Step subculture, your life has been touched by the handy work of this AA member. Barry L sobered up in 1945; that is year ten on the AA calendar - if AA was recording our history yet - and six years after the Big Book was published. In the course of his life in sobriety, Barry was a staff writer for AA, recording and reporting many of the early General Service Conference reports, working for A.A. Grapevine, editing nearly 40-years of AA collective experience in Living Sober (1973) and what the General Service Office hoped would be the black-sheep in AA pamphlet to end all black sheep pamphlets, Do You Think You're Different?

Remember the pre-Traditions tale of of an African American, cross-dressing, heroin addicted, paroled convict and alcoholic walking into our 1945 AA New York clubhouse? Guess who was at the front desk to meet this new AA member? Barry L.

Remember hearing about the controversy in the 1970s about listing Gay & Lesbian (LGBTQ+) meetings where AA delegates squared off in their redneck and liberal corners? Guess who was recording the discussion and outcome of these heated meetings? Barry L.

Were you moved by stories of AA's who felt different - even in AA: African American, Native American, atheist, member of the clergy, high bottom, low bottom, Jewish, lesbian, gay, old, young, agnostic? These were the stories of pamphlet P-13 Do You Think You're Different? compiled and edited by Barry L.

Remember the recent controversy about the original manuscript of the book Alcoholics Anonymous being auctioned off at Southeby's Auction and AA's GSO petitioning the court to stop the transfer of AA's original property until a judge could determine if it was the rightful property of Alcoholics Anonymous? This will be talked about in this recording we're going to listen to...

In 1978 Lois gifted the manuscript to Barry, who signed a notarized letter in 1979, noting his intention to return the manuscript to A.A. World Services, upon his death. Through an "AA ought never be organized" chain of events, by Bary's death in 1985, A.A. World Services forgot about this arrangement. During the spirit of rotation at GSO, this material fact to those in the know was not etched in the memories of those then in charge at the time of Barry L's death. The unknown whereabouts of the manuscript remained a mystery until an auction in 2004 saw the manuscript sold for $1.5 million. It was auctioned again in 2007 and when it was on the auction block again a couple of years ago, AA World Services rediscovered Barry Leach’s notarized letter. In the end, AA's groups conscience was that it was not becoming of AA to own anything of significant value or engage in anything so controversial. Hence, AA made reparations for the delay we caused and it was, once again sold for $2.4 million.

Named after the book, Living Sober became the name of the oldest and longest running LGBTQ+ AA (and AlAnon) conference in the world. Once exclusively in San Francisco, now you can zoom to Living Sober at noon (PST) Monday to Friday every day.

Barry was a trusted friend to Bill Wilson and his widow, Lois. Barry and Lois both gave their last address to the AA World Convention in 1985. Living Sober is reviewed by A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous, author John L who wrote for AA Beyond Belief, " My current Boston home group has the up-front name, “Atheists and Agnostics.” At each meeting, we start off by reading and discussing a chapter from Living Sober, which tells us how to get sober, stay sober, and lead a good life in sobriety. ...The Living Sober approach is neither for nor against religion, but independent from it. ... Those of you who attend regular AA groups should make sure that the literature table always includes copies of Living Sober.  This is the book to recommend to newcomers and to those we sponsor."

These are samples of Barry-moments that altered AA's course, many would say, for the better. Rebellion Dogs is pleased to share with you the last talk Barry L ever gave. It was the 50th anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous - Montreal 1985. He was talking at the Gay and Lesbian panel about Tradition Three: The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking. 

Barry passed away 3 weeks after this talk.

Read about Living Sober the book, written by John L, @

Notes on Barry's 1985 AA 50th Anniversary talk HERE

AA Grapevine remembers Montreal 1985


Leave a comment

Add comment